It is Buy Nothing Day. Switch off from shopping for a day or two. Stop and think about all the ways your own lifestyle are harmful. hink about all the ways you use energy. Think about all the things you throw away, including plastic and paper wrappers.
This is not just silly stuff, it is important. It is time to realize the part we all play in this out-of-control economic system that is literally consuming the planet out from under us. Global warming is real. Deforestation is real. Depletion of the seas is real. There’s an old saying, “If something is unsustainable, it can’t be sustained.”
From the Buy Nothing Day press release,
Some see it as an escape from the marketing mind games and frantic consumer binge that has come to characterize the holiday season, and our culture in general. Others use it to expose the environmental and ethical consequences of overconsumption.
Two recent, high-profile disaster warnings outline the sudden urgency of our dilemma. First, in October, a global warming report by economist Sir Nicholas Stern predicted that climate change will lead to the most massive and widest-ranging market failure the world has ever seen. Soon after, a major study published in the journal Science forecast the near-total collapse of global fisheries within 40 years.
I’ve just finished a very interesting book, Capitalism 3.0, A Guide To Reclaiming The Commons, by Peter Barnes. The book talks about ways we can restructure our laws and rules of ownership to cover who should pay for polluting and other harmful things — costs that our current system ignores and even encourages. The change is based on our realizing that we all own certain things in common.
Here’s a quick way to understand the ideas in this book:
Suppose you live next door to a sawmill operation. The owner makes lots of money, but aa waste product, sawdust, is building up on his lot. This big pile of sawdust is getting bigger and bigger, and it’s getting to the point that he’s going to have to shut down his profitable operation if he can’t find some place to dump some sawdust. So one day he comes to you and asks if he can dump some sawdust in your back yard. You answer, “If you give me $25,000 a year, each year you can dump 5 truckloads, but no more, in my yard.” You are $25,000 richer, you limited the sawdust to a level you could tolerate, and the sawmill can continue to operate and make money.
This happened because you “own” that property and have the “right” to refuse to let others make money by dumping their waste in it – or to negotiate for some of the resulting profits. This sounds so basic – but there is a reason I put quotes around the words “own” and “right.” The concepts of ownership and rights only exist because they are granted to us by law, and laws are nothing more than creations of government. It didn’t used to be that way, that regular people could “own” things and have “property rights,” but people thought it would be a good idea, and made it happen. And in America it is set up that we can do things like that because, guess what, WE’re the government. (It says that in our Constitution.) More on this later.
There is a lot of talk about “the center” and “centrists.” Lots of people say the blogs are on the left.
To put this in perspective, when and where is the last time you heard anyone talk about nationalizing the oil companies? That would be a “leftist” proposal.
After all, the oil companies do not “own” the oil any more than anyone can own the air or the water. They are extracting OUR resource, under license from US to operate, and as corporations are granted limited liability by US. In exchange, they are supposed to be serving the public interest. A discussion about whether they are serving the public interest might involve questions about how much they are setting aside to cover the costs of putting carbon into the air, or to pay for research into transitioning away from fossil fuels a they start to run out, how much they pay their employees, and other ways that WE might benefit from allowing them to extract OUR resource. So obviously, they are not serving the public interest.
A broader discussion would ask whether we need to reform the corporate system into something that really does serve the public interest…
The fact is, “leftist” arguments are not even part of our national discussion. Without that perspective in the discussion, it can’t really be said that there even is a “center,” can there? And without ALL sides contributing to the marketplace of ideas, how can society arrive at solutions that incorporate the best ideas from all the different perspectives?
(Cross-posted at the Commonweal Institute Blog.)
Salon has an article today, Calculating the global warming catastrophe, that I recommend everyone read. This is the most important subject. It is vastly more important than our election, except that our election offers a way to start doing something about the problem. We only have a few years to turn things around. (To see it I had to watch an ad for a car that doesn’t get good fuel economy…)
HOW serious is the problem? The article quotes one scientist who says it is already too late and makes a dramatic worst-case prediction,
Human beings, a hardy species, will not perish entirely, he says; in interviews during his book tour, Lovelock has predicted that about 200 million people, or about one thirtieth of the current world population, will survive if competent leaders make a new home for us near the present-day Arctic. There may also be other survivable spots, like the British Isles, though he notes that rising sea levels will render them more an archipelago. In any event, he predicts that “teeming billions” will perish.
Others, however, say that we are heading that way, BUT we still have 10 years to turn it around.
The article says – along with many scientists – that the only way to really address the problem is to start replacing our power plants with nuclear power plants right now.
It’s to the question of solutions to mitigate the effects of global warming that Lovelock eventually turns, which is odd since in other places he insists that it’s too late to do much. His prescriptions are strongly worded and provocative — he thinks that renewable energy and energy conservation will come too slowly to ward off damage, and that an enormous program of building nuclear reactors is our best, indeed our only, real option.
I believe the problem of where to put nuclear waste pales in comparison to what we face – and what we are doing now is just dumping the waste (CO2) from burning fossil fuel into the air.
One thing Republican rule has done is help a lot of people sort out their thinking. People have had enough. People are fed up with business-as-usual, and dysfunctional systems that allow wingnuts to gain power. People are ready for transformational change. Half-assed namby-pamby measures aren’t going to satisfy anymore.
For example, people don’t want to fix the energy problem by raising the fuel economy standards a bit in 2009, they want to invest $1 trillion in developing new, sustainable energy sources and moving away from using fossil fuels entirely – now. That’s transformational change.
People don’t want to tweak health insurance rules, they want to implement Medicare For All, where every single person in the United States receives health coverage and prescription coverage as a right.
People don’t want to fix the political system by lowering the limits on PAC donations, they want public financing of elections.
People want to ban all use of corporate money for any politician or so-called charity or anything else.
People want to stop this idea of corporate personhood and similar nonsense that depowers the public. People want corporations to serve the public good. Let’s discuss this. Please leave comments with other examples of the kind of truly transformational change we need.
Suppose the price of energy reflected its cost? It seems that the way we all make money is to extract oil and avoid the cost of using it. Almost everything in our economy involves applying energy to something. The “profit” we live off of seems to come from passing along the costs to the future.
I’m talking about global warming mostly, the cost of putting CO2 into the air. Nuclear energy costs a lot but that cost is really just the expense of containing the radioactivity — we pay that cost today but we don’t really have to. Nuclear would be cheap if we didn’t pay for shielding and cooling towers and just released the radioactivity into the air, the way we currently release CO2 into the air.
Suppose there was a law that said for every part CO2 you put into the atmosphere, you have to take out 3 parts? The PRICE of a oil or coal would then reflect the COST of so may years of putting CO2 in the air… but the climate change problem would start getting better. Imagine purchasing big solar-panel-powered machines that extract carbon from CO2…